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49ers bubble watch: Special teams

The San Francisco 49ers have questions at almost every position while they work to figure out their 53-man roster. We’ll break down the bubble watch for each one. Today, we wrap it up with a look at the special teams options.

The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up minicamp last week, and return for training camp in just over five weeks. The roster appears to be just about set, so with that in mind, it is time to re-visit the bubble watch. The offseason workout program does not lock in most roster spots, and that is even more the case this season with a new coaching staff and front office.

Over the next two weeks, we’re going to take a look at each position, and what the bubble watch looks like. As we’ve done for many years now, the bubble watch breaks down to lock, strong bubble, weak bubble, and longshot. For some positions, we'll have multiple players listed at strong bubble, even though not all are likely to make the roster. But the idea is that they both stand a good shot, even if it is just one of them. Additionally, this does not reflect whether or not a player will be traded. Trades can and probably will happen during training camp, but the positioning on this focuses on whether or not they’d be cut.

We close it out with special teams.

Lock: K Robbie Gould, P Bradley Pinion, LS Kyle Nelson, WR Trent Taylor
Strong Bubble: S Don Jones, LB Brock Coyle, LB Dekoda Watson, WR Bruce Ellington
Weak Bubble: LB Ray-Ray Armstrong, S Vinnie Sunseri, WR Victor Bolden
Longshot: CB Prince Charles Iworah

Special teams is always an odd group to figure out. We know the kicker, punter and long snapper, but then things often get confusing. The kick and punt returner(s) generally are players who have other roles, but then many of the core players in the four major areas (kick return, punt return, kickoff, FG/XP) focus almost exclusively on special teams.

Instead of just focusing on kicker, punter, and long snapper, I threw in a few other names as well. Guys like Don Jones, Brock Coyle, and Dekoda Watson are among those who are competing primarily for special teams work. All three have a good chance of making the roster as core special teamers, although a strong rookie performance could change that.

During most of the offseason workout program, Trent Taylor and Victor Bolden were regulars when it came to returning kicks and punts. Bruce Ellington dealt with an injury that cost him part of OTAs and minicamp, but he will compete as a returner as well. Bolden’s special teams work at Oregon State was primarily as a kick returner. Taylor’s special teams work at Louisiana Tech was primarily as a punt returner.

I did not include everybody that will be competing for special teams work. Most of the rookies will be in the mix, and plenty of other players on both sides of the ball will get a lot of work. Just to give you an idea, here is how the 49ers special teams snap count looked last year, according to Football Outsiders. It includes anybody with at least 100 snaps (20 percent or more of special teams snaps), and does not include the kicker, punter, or long snapper.

Dontae Johnson, CB - 381 snaps
Michael Wilhoite, LB - 288
Aaron Burbridge, WR - 272
Shaun Draughn, RB - 236
Shayne Skov, LB - 220
Nick Bellore, LB - 205
Mike Purcell, DL - 193
Rod Streater, WR - 190
Blake Bell, TE - 188
Jaquiski Tartt, S - 170
Garrett Celek, TE - 170
Keith Reaser, CB - 148
Marcus Cromartie, DB - 144
Vinnie Sunseri, S - 131
JaCorey Shepherd, CB - 111
DeForest Buckner, DL - 103
Quinton Dial, DL - 103
Marcus Ball, S - 101
Rashard Robinson, CB - 100